Memphis City Council members debate police, fire residency requirements

Memphis police, firefighter residency requirement debate

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Should public safety employees in Memphis, like police and firefighters, be required to live within Shelby County? It’s a question some city council members and Mayor Jim Strickland believe Memphis voters should take up again.

Memphis voters have dealt with the residency question a number of times over the years and previously said that public safety employees had to live within Shelby County. MPD Director Mike Rallings says dropping that requirement would help MPD get its ranks back to 2,300 officers.

“I have always lived in the city,” said Rallings.

City Council considering loosening residency requirements for Memphis police, firefighters

Rallings said he thinks qualified police and fire candidates should not be barred from applying if they don’t live in Shelby County. He believes that stipulation is keeping MPD specifically from hitting recruiting targets.

“If you want to get us over the hump, lift residency,” said Rallings. “Let’s see what happens. The voters can always vote to return residency.”

Rallings told council members MPD’s complement sits at 2,062 with 85 officers currently in the academy. Factoring in attrition, the department said multiple classes of recruits in recent years have kept the force from getting below the 1,900 mark.

Statistics provided by the city show, with respect to police and fire combined, 44.9 percent of employees live in the city, 43.5 percent live in the county and another 11.6 percent live outside Shelby County. Those employees outside Shelby County were grandfathered in because they were hired before January 2005 when residency restrictions were put in place.

MPD said employees who live outside of Shelby County are required to drop off their cars at the closest MPD precinct before going home. They do not drive the cars outside Shelby County.

“We want to reduce any barriers to hiring qualified people who want to serve the citizens of Memphis,” said Doug McGowen, chief operating officer of the City of Memphis.

Council members Gerre Curre and Ford Canale are sponsoring the ordinance, but Tuesday it encountered pushback from multiple council members in committee. The proposal would require that public safety employees live within two hours of the city.

“Why should we let these high paying middle class jobs leave our city,” said Martavius Jones.

“If they can’t believe the officers are living next door, are living within their community, that hurts the image the police and fire departments are trying to promote,” said Cheyenne Johnson.

The committee decided to delay an initial vote for two weeks to allow MPD and the city to prepare a more in-depth presentation on their recruitment efforts.

Rallings said they’ll be back to make their case.

“I think council raised some good issues. They just don’t know what I know. With our best in blue campaign, we’ve really worked hard to recruit and maintain police officers,” he said.

Since the item is an ordinance, it needs three readings in front of the full council to pass. The ordinance is asking for a referendum so that voters can decide if the residency restriction should be lifted. The mayor’s administration said they’d like to see that vote next fall.

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